PITTSFIELD -- For decades, comedian Jerry Lewis would take over the television screen to fight it.
Muscular dystrophy -- an uncomical genetic condition which weakens and destroys joints, muscles and ultimately, the heart.
The legendary comedic actor known for helping Jerry’s Kids and raising billions for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to find a cure for the disease, stopped holding telethons two years ago. But the MDA still exists, and on Saturday, Pittsfield firefighters were out doing the work that Lewis used to do.
Though they weren’t on television, firefighters gathered at all five Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Pittsfield, as well as the Donut Man, to collect donations for the MDA as part of a boot drive.
Suzanne Crowley Blaszak, whose father, Charles J. Crowley, started the first MDA Firefighters Boot Drive with Boston firefighters back in 1952, was on hand at the East Street Dunkin Donuts Saturday morning helping them.
Both of her brothers were afflicted with the genetic disorder. Jay died in 1962 at the age of 24, and Dave died in 1975 at 26 from its effects.
Crowley Blaszak also has muscular dystrophy (MD), though not as bad as what took the lives of her brothers. She has an artificial disk in her neck, an artificial hip and a knee replacement.
"I don’t have a full-blown case," she said. "I still walk with the help of a walker."
The 61-year-old retired schoolteacher credits years of performing as a singer with helping to keep her lungs and voice strong.
She wasn’t diagnosed with the ailment until she was 40, though symptoms such as leg pain began when she was 8. Doctors didn’t think the disorder affected females at the time, she said.
The MDA has helped Crowley Blaszak. They helped pay for her walker, wheelchair, crutches, a side rail for her bed, clinics and physical therapy. She receives accupuncture and muscle therapy to stay healthy.
Walking also helps.
"If I stop and stay in a wheelchair, I will lose the ability to walk," she said.
New drugs are being developed to fight MD. Crowley Blaszak is hopeful about Ataluren, which is being developed with the MDA’s help.
And Lewis? Dave and Suzanne both met him when he visited their home in the 1970s before Dave passed away. Her father had been given an award by Lewis for helping raise money for the MDA.
They talked about Lewis’ appearances with Johnny Carson and as guest host on the Tonight Show.
"He was very serious, kind and passionate," Suzanne recalled. "He had seen a lot of kids die."
Pittsfield Fire Department Lt. Elmer Gage, who helped organize this year’s fundraiser, said the department has been holding the fundraisers for more than a dozen years.
"We’re doing this not just for this lady, but we have a firefighter who we support," Gage said. One of the department’s members has muscular dystrophy."
The boot drive usually raises between $2,500 to $3,000, Gage said. The department donates another $500. An exact dollar figure for Saturday’s fundraiser wasn’t immediately avalilable.
Rachel Lovato, 23, of Pittsfield, was in line at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window Saturday morning, and gave four dollars.
Lovato said she didn’t know much about MD.
"I just like to donate when I can," she said.
To contact Nathan Mayberg:
or (413) 496-6243